Justice that arrives like a thunderbolt

Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

Those seemingly delightful lyrics are from the song “Accidental Racist,” by Brad Paisley and sung by him and LL Cool J. The song often refers to how white people from the south and black people from the north maybe just can’t understand each other, and maybe they’re being a little too sensitive about things, and maybe they should just have a beer together. It’s a really dreadful song and you probably shouldn’t listen to it.

A couple weekends ago, a white 20-year-old wearing patches representing pro-apartheid African nations, and who has been pictured waving a Confederate battle flag and burning a United States flag, and who — according to his roommate — had often spoke of killing some black people and starting a new civil war, went into an historic black civil war-era church in Charleston, South Carolina, sat around for a while while the pastor led his congregation in prayer, and then pulled out a gun and opened fire. The death toll, before he fled the scene only to be captured in North Carolina the next day, was nine.

Based solely on the evidence I listed above (confederate flag, anti-apartheid, yearning for another civil war, historic black place of worship) a lot of people labeled this pretty much immediately as a hate crime. Others claim it’s an act of terrorism, and I tend to agree with both. His intent was very clearly racially motivated, and going by the FBI’s official definition I think it’s clear to say this was an act of terrorism as well. The oddest thing, however, is when you switch your television station over to Fox News, you’ll hear they have taken a different approach to the situation. Obviously this wasn’t a racist hate crime, but an attack on Christianity! Because in Foxnewsland, the spin they put on any story has to make it seem like they, the Christian Right, are the ones being attacked. So far as I can tell, no indication of Roof’s religion has been made.

Anyway, this whole shooting debacle led very briefly to a discussion on gun laws and a lot of old internet memes popped back up for about three days, but that was all swept aside to make room for this week’s new topic of debate, and the real culprit here: racism.

And you know, I sort of agree. I’m no fan of guns. We need stricter gun regulations. We need to make it more difficult for all people to obtain guns. But it’s also important to determine motive and then see if there are ways to quell motivation — in this case, racism — that may lead to heinous acts like shootings that kill nine people. So our first course of action has been, for the first time in 150 years, to villainize the confederate battle flag (CBF). The day after Roof’s killing spree, the CBF was still flying on South Carolina capitol grounds. It still exists as part of the design on several state flags, as well. So obviously we have to have that flag removed.

But why a flag? It’s just a flag! It’s more than a flag, people. It’s a symbol. A symbol flown by supporters of a war 150 years old that was lost to the Union. A symbol of traitorous southerners who thought it was their god-given right to keep slaves. Yeah, technically people have the freedom to fly their CBFs or their Nazi Germany swastikas, but does that mean they necessarily ought to? Furthermore, does it mean they reserve the right to do so free of consequence? Freedom of speech and expression does not grant you immunity to criticism. As a person with German ancestry, I don’t feel it’s necessary for me to fly a swastika to honor my ancestors.

“Southern pride” rednecks can hang the flag from their trailers and lean-tos and claim their ancestors who fought and died for the Confederacy deserve respect, but I refuse to mourn for or respect separatists who, had they had their way, would have maintained their right to oppress a race of people and buy/sell them and force them into servitude.

Hell, the presence of the CBF or its likeness in the form of stickers on the bumpers of Ford trucks as old and rusty as their owners or patches on overalls serves to warn me in advance who the racists are who can’t let go of the past and their ancestors’ failings in the name of heritage, or some other hokey backwoods jargon that secretly stands for “Hey, we tried to [3/5ths] compromise!”

But that flag has no place whatsoever on public or government property. When it exists next to a United States flag, or a state flag, or especially AS a state flag, it gives the Dylann Roofs of the world a symbol to fight or kill for. It perpetuates — and even worse, institutionalizes — racism.

As of this writing, several states have removed the CBFs from their capitol grounds. Several retailers — even huge retailers like Wal-Mart, Amazon, and eBay — have stopped selling CBF merchandise. I don’t think that was a necessary step, but I support their right to sell or not sell what they please. Even video game publishers of historic games are talking about stopping sales of games featuring a CBF. It is absolutely huge that this is in national discussion right now. There are the people who think the flag belongs in a museum, since it certainly has a history within the United States, and then there are the people who refuse to take it down because their “southern pride” is more important to them than supporting their fellow Americans. When all is said and done, the racists will stick out like sore thumbs and we’ll all be better off knowing who to stay away from.

WHICH BRINGS ME TO TODAY’S BIG NEWS

I awoke this morning and turned on the news, like I do, and I picked up my Android phone and started scrolling through Facebook to see what I had missed during my slumber. As it turns out, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a vote of 5-4, overturned states’ rights to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

This is an extraordinary time to be alive right now, knowing that not only is history being made, but that I’m on the right side of it and have been since I was old enough to understand that boys are allowed to love boys too.

The second thing I did this morning, after I had scrolled a bit through Facebook, was to start perusing the comments sections under the posts made by local news organizations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you really want to know the state of things in our country, don’t watch TV, don’t read a newspaper; all you have to do is read the comments sections under local news articles. Because this is your home; these are the people who surround you. Many of them are kind-hearted, reasonable people whose love for life extends to their friends and neighbors and doesn’t just stop outside their own personal egobubble.

But then there are the rabid, hateful, obscene people who want everyone to know how much love they have for family values and Jesus and oh god won’t somebody think of the children! It is to those people whom I address in the remainder of today’s post. Those Christians who assume this progressive country abides by the laws in their millennia-old book.

Your silly book of fairy tales with its laws against shaving your beard and laws against women taking on roles as educators and laws proclaiming bats are birds and stories about talking donkeys and people being turned into pillars of salt and daughters raping their drunken father and god destroying everything a man loves and lives for all because of a silly bet…

That’s not the book from which our normal-people laws are derived. Hell isn’t real, heaven isn’t real, talking serpents and donkeys aren’t real, dragons and unicorns and behemoths and leviathans aren’t real… so do kindly shut the fuck up and refrain from passing judgment on anybody – ANYBODY – seeking happiness and inclusiveness and equality. Because if what they’re doing shakes the very foundation of your fundamental beliefs, then it’s your fundamentals which need to be checked, NOT theirs.

If I learned anything from the Bible, and I have read it cover to cover, it’s that lesson from very early on in the book about the big important guy getting all in a kerfuffle because his two subservient playthings decided to seek knowledge: the ultimate gift.

Too bad satan’s not real, otherwise I’d praise him for setting us free from the Christian god’s shackles.

Equality wins, boys and girls, friends and family. And of you still huffing and puffing about hell or about how icky it is that some people actually had to fight and live through the ridicule and the pain and the insults just to hear their country say “okay, you’re allowed to love each other now,” you huffers and puffers are a dying breed.

This is an incredible time to be alive in the United States. I’m watching history being made. I’m watching my friends finally be recognized as actual people. I get to see my friends rejoice in who they are and know that finally, America is on their side.

If there was a god, I wouldn’t offer cries of “god bless” or “god is great” or any sort of fealty. Not after seeing how his/her/its followers and so-called disciples spit venom and hatred and condemnation toward anybody a little bit different than themselves. Anybody with a different skin color, or anybody with a different sexual preference or identity. No, god deserves no love, no praise, no thanks. It’s the fast-growing majority of progressive, forward-thinking Americans who are to thank for helping bring this country that much closer to universal equality.

Morality sans Bible

Pretty much every society, culture, and even religion has their own version of the “Golden Rule.” The Golden Rule says, essentially:

Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.

This Rule is old. Like, old old. Again, it’s found in the texts of pretty much every major religion. Christianity’s got their version, Islam’s got theirs – even Zoroastrians, Taoists, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains. If this is not evidence suggesting the Rule (and what some consider the basis of ethics) is not founded in religion, consider that the ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Egyptians featured it in their texts, and that it can be found in Hammurabi’s code of the ancient Babylonians.

If not because “God made it,” why does the Golden Rule exist? How did we figure out that we need to be good to other people, and that we shouldn’t be bad? How did we even determine what good and bad are? Instead of giving credit to the supernatural, let’s try the practical approach: human evolution.

I should mention right now, before I get ahead of myself, that this doesn’t specifically pertain to human evolution, as some form or another of morality/ethics is evident in other species such as chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, dolphins, lions, penguins, elephants, and even bats (to name only a few of many). So really, morality has to do not with human evolution, but with the evolution of social animals.

But, being that we’re human, I’ll focus on us.

As far back as when our monkey-like ancestors were still living primarily in trees, we’ve been a social animal, which means particular social “rules” must have existed for a very, very long time. Why? Because without rules, there won’t be cooperation, and a functioning, progressive “society” could not exist.

Close your eyes. Now open them. Magically, you’ve been flung back in time into the body of Bobor, an ancient ancestor of yours, part of a quaint tribe of early hominids living in the outskirts of a forest near the edge of a hot, grassy plain.

Bobor’s role in the tribe is that of a hunter. Every day he and the other men venture into the jungle with crude weapons in the hopes that they will come back in the evening with plenty of food for the tribe. In order to catch their prey, the hunters must cooperate. Sometimes their prey is far larger than just one man, but when two or three work together they are perfectly able to bring it down. The men know that if they do not work together, they will likely not find any food and for that they and their tribe will suffer.

In the evening, Bobor and the other hunters return home with plenty of food. The rest of the tribe is happy because they are hungry, and now they can eat. The women of the tribe cut up the food and prepare it for eating. Soon, the whole tribe is sitting down and enjoying their dinner. Bobor is happy because he got to help feed the tribe. The rest of the tribe is happy with Bobor (and the other hunters) for the same reason.

While they are eating Bobor notices that a hunter, Kraduk, is trying to take food from another tribe member. A fight breaks out, and the tribe member whose food Kraduk was attempting to steal, ended up dead. Bobor and the rest of the tribe begin yelling at Kraduk. The man he killed was another hunter, and so now they will have one less in their hunting party when they go out in the morning.

Angry, the tribe shuns Kraduk for making life more difficult. With Kraduk an outcast, the hunters head out in the morning, now with two less men than the day before. When they encounter their prey, they find it much more difficult to take down. Bobor and another hunter are injured but ultimately they manage to kill their prey and take it back to the rest of the tribe.

Despite Kraduk’s killing of the other hunter, the tribe manages to survive another day, but they will not forget what Kraduk has done, and they will remember the hardships they suffered (one dead, two injured, and one outcast) as a result.

Morality, at least for humans, could easily have spawned from a situation like Bobor’s and Kraduk’s. It was not as a result of religion (though the tribe may or may not have practiced a very primitive form of religion), but simply because of a need for cooperation and cohesion.

Even if Kraduk’s crime had simply been theft, or as petty as lying about something, this could have created distrust which may have shaken the cohesiveness of the entire tribe. So rules are made, whether they’re written down, spoken, or simply understood: don’t lie, cheat, steal, hurt, or kill. The success of your tribe depends on it. Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.

These rules would even spread among other tribes, and dictate how members of one tribe should (or should not) treat members of another. If you kill members of another tribe, the rest of their tribe might come and kill you right back. Or they’ll kill someone else in your tribe. And then your tribe may realize you were the cause of this, and you may be outcast, and now your tribe is two members less than it was before and their chances of success have lessened because of it.

Okay. Close your eyes, and open them again. You’re you again. You are the result of millions of years of cooperation. It seems to be working, so please don’t go and screw things up.

Freedom to Marry

Freedom to Marry

Image via Wikipedia

For a long time I’ve been an avid supporter of the Human Rights Campaign and the fight to grant equal rights to the LGBT community. Just the other day I learned my friends at LUSH Cosmetics have partnered with the Freedom to Marry campaign to encourage the US Government to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, which would effectively undo the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies LGBT couples the right to marry.

Along with the right to marry, there are 1,138 rights straight couples have, but which are denied to the LGBT community. Let me say it again in italics: that’s one thousand, one hundred thirty-eight rights that straight couples are allowed but gay couples are not. Here’s a .pdf file that outlines all one thousand, one hundred thirty-eight rights the gay community is denied.

Please take forty seconds of your time today to sign LUSH’s Freedom to Marry petition and pledge your support to the campaign. If you have an extra minute, I encourage you to make a donation to Freedom to Marry.

To visit the Freedom to Marry website, please click here.
To visit LUSH Cosmetics, click here.

New Ten Commandments

Borrowed from Ebon Musings:

  1. Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
  2. In all things, strive to cause no harm.
  3. Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
  4. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
  5. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.
  6. Always seek to be learning something new.
  7. Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.
  8. Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
  9. Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.
  10. Question everything.

The Shadow of the Past (an excerpt)

Cover of "THE END OF FAITH: RELIGION, TER...

Cover via Amazon

Finding ourselves in a universe that seems bent upon destroying us, we quickly discover, both as individuals and as societies, that it is a good thing to understand the forces arrayed against us. And so it is that every human being comes to desire genuine knowledge about the world. This has always posed a special problem for religion, because every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which it has no evidence. In fact, every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable. This put the “leap” in Kierkegaard’s leap of faith.

What if all our knowledge about the world were suddenly to disappear? Imagine that six billion of us wake up tomorrow morning in a state of utter ignorance and confusion. Our books and computers are still here, but we can’t make heads or tails of their contents. We have even forgotten how to drive our cars and brush our teeth. What knowledge would we want to reclaim first? Well, there’s that business about growing food and building shelter that we would want to get reacquainted with. We would want to relearn how to use and repair many of our machines. Learning to understand spoken and written language would also be a top priority, given that these skills are necessary for acquiring most others. When in this process of reclaiming our humanity will it be important to know that Jesus was born of a virgin? Or that he was resurrected? And how would we relearn these truths, if they are indeed true? By reading the Bible? Our tour of the shelves will deliver similar pearls from antiquity – like the “fact” that Isis, the goddess of fertility, sports an impressive pair of cow horns. Reading further, we will learn that Thor carries a hammer and that Marduk’s sacred animals are horses, dogs, and a dragon with a forked tongue. Whom shall we give top billing in our resurrected world? Yahweh or Shiva? And when will we want to relearn that premarital sex is a sin? Or that adulteresses should be stoned to death? Or that the soul enters the zygote at the moment of conception? And what will we think of those curious people who begin proclaiming that one of our books is distinct from all others in that it was actually written by the Creator of the universe?

There are undoubtedly spiritual truths that we would want to relearn – once we manage to feed and clothe ourselves – and these are truths that we have learned imperfectly in our present state. How is it possible, for instance, to overcome one’s fear and inwardness and simply love other human beings? Assume for the moment, that such a process of personal transformation exists and that there is something worth knowing about it; there is, in other words, some skill, or discipline, or conceptual understanding, or dietary supplement that allows for the reliable transformation of fearful, hateful, or indifferent persons into loving ones. If so, we should be positively desperate to know about it. There may even be a few biblical passages that would be useful in this regard – but as for whole rafts of untestable doctrines, clearly there would be no reasonable basis to take them up again. The Bible and Koran, it seems certain, would find themselves respectfully shelved next to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

The point is that most of what we currently hold sacred is not sacred for any reason other than that it was thought sacred yesterday. Surely, if we could create the world anew, the practice of organizing our lives around untestable propositions found in ancient literature – to say nothing of killing and dying for them – would be impossible to justify. What stops us from finding it impossible now?

Many have observed that religion, by lending meaning to human life, permits communities (at least those united under a single faith) to cohere. Historically this is true, and on this score religion is to be credited as much for wars of conquest as for feast days and brotherly love. But in its effect upon the modern world – a world already united, at least potentially, by economic, environmental, political, and epidemiological necessity – religious ideology is dangerously retrograde. Our past is not sacred for being past, and there is much that is behind us that we are struggling to keep behind us, and to which, it is to be hoped, we could never return with a clear conscience: the divine right of kings, feudalism, the caste system, slavery, political executions, forced castration, vivisection, bearbaiting, honorable duels, chastity belts, trial by ordeal, child labor, human and animal sacrifice, the stoning of heretics, cannibalism, sodomy laws, taboos against contraception, human radiation experiments – the list is nearly endless, and if it were extended indefinitely, the proportion of abuses for which religion could be found directly responsible is likely to remain undiminished. In fact, almost every indignity just mentioned can be attributed to an insufficient taste for evidence, to an uncritical faith in one dogma or another. The idea, therefore, that religious faith is somehow a sacred human convention – distinguished, as it is, both by the extravagance of its claims and by the paucity of its evidence – is really too great a monstrosity to be appreciated in all its glory. Religious faith represents so uncompromising a misuse of the power of our minds that it forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity – a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse proves impossible. When foisted upon each generation anew, it renders us incapable of realizing just how much of our world has been unnecessarily ceded to a dark and barbarous past.

Sam Harris, The End of Faith

Life, the universe, and everything

As an opener I’d like to state that my worldview has absolutely nothing to do with my atheism. I like to think that were I a theist I would still hold life, the universe, and everything in exactly the same regards. This post is not intended to answer any questions about nor explain my view on theism. Correlation does not imply causation. That being said, let us proceed.

Where did we come from?
Four billion years ago or so, just the right combination of chemicals came together somewhere on this planet. Some phosphates, some sugar and nucleobase molecules, and a charge of electricity or radiation (lightning?) have been proven to be all it takes to create life. It’s hardly “something from nothing,” but as uncommon as it is, given a lot of chemicals and a lot of lightning and billions of years something’s bound to happen. Those are the layman’s terms, of course; I’m not a chemist, a biologist, or a physicist. But there’s proof, so there you go. It may not be the correct answer, but it’s the best one out there yet and it’s certainly more realistic and preferable than “God did it” (which would only raise more questions).

Of course the life created was the simplest it could possibly be. On a relatively new planet, however, given plenty of time and a fast-changing environment, this life began to change. It evolved, more cells began to work together, organisms formed, they grew fins, swam, poked their heads out of water and began breathing air, crawled onto land, grew legs, scales, feathers, wings, fur (not necessarily in that order) and, billions of years later, here we are. That was the condensed version. Be sure to research natural selection to learn more about how all that busy stuff actually happened.

Why are we here?
This is still up for interpretation. Taken to mean “what is our purpose,” one could say that as a species our only purpose is to continue to propagate the species. Man find woman. Man court woman. Woman bear child. Child grow up. Find mate. And so on, and so forth.

If you’re looking for a deeper purpose, I could only tell you my own as I believe every person finds his or her own purpose in life. Mine is to be happy and have a happy family (first) and try to keep everybody else happy to my best extent (second). This includes going to school, getting a job, telling jokes, writing songs, singing loudly, smiling a lot, dancing when the mood strikes me, wearing comfortable shoes, playing video games, keeping a blog, donating to charities I know will make the world a little easier to live in for some people less fortunate than I am. If you think my purpose is anything more or less than that, then I’m so very sorry for not living up to your standards. I apologize if my purpose seems a little superficial compared to yours. The fact of the matter is that I’m happy, my family is happy, and ain’t nothin’ gonna bring me down.

Where are we going?
This one’s easy. Eventually, as happens with all species, the human race will go extinct. It may or may not be replaced by another sentient race, more adaptable to change and more capable of surviving in whatever the conditions are at the time. I doubt very much that we will be the last animal to go extinct. In the end, nothing we say or do or accomplish as a race will matter. Not to us, at least; we’ll be dead. It very likely will matter to whatever species outlive us, since there is no doubt we will have changed our planet (whether it’s earth or some other planet we move on to in the future) in a manner that will affect the other animals around us. Knowing that, maybe we should try and keep things nice and tidy ’til we go.

In terms of where each one of us goes, or how we end up, being that I don’t believe in any afterlife (primarily because I have no reason to) we’ll just die. That’ll be it. Physically, our bodies will decay and nourish the land and life around them. Metaphysically, one must remember the human is a social animal. We tell tales, sing songs, and create art. Not that it’ll matter to me much after the fact (since I’ll be dead), but I like to think here and now that once I’ve died I’ll be remembered. Perhaps people will still listen to the music I’ve created or read the stories I’ve written. That line of thinking – that I’ll possibly be remembered in those ways – brings me comfort and makes me happy. See “Why are we here?” above if you’ve forgotten why I think that’s important.

Why is goodness good, and what are morals anyway?
Who am I to say what’s good and right versus what’s bad and wrong, you might be asking. I’m not a philosopher so you’ll have to forgive me if you disagree, but I prefer to take the utilitarian route and define goodness as whatever makes the greatest number of people happy and comfortable, and causes the least amount of discomfort, pain, or unhappiness. That answers, as far as I and my opinions are concerned, the question of why it is good to be good.

The less important question here is what are morals and where do they come from? I, the non-philosopher, prefer to ask who cares? Morals exist. Everybody has a different view, and some of them contrast with one another, but how we developed morality is completely irrelevant. It is, though, also completely answerable. I already mentioned humans are social animals, but I need to bring it up again here because it’s pretty important. At some point in our ancient history of evolution we discovered that is it more beneficial to work together to accomplish a particular task, as opposed to going it alone. As family groups became more common, we realized it would be detrimental to our well-being if we killed or hurt those around us. Anybody who did so became an outcast as they were seen to be harmful for the future of the family/clan/community. For (hopefully) a better understanding of how we may have developed morality and ethics, I will refer you to the parable of Grog and Zog – a silly name for a story about cavemen that teaches an important lesson.

Still have questions? Read it again.

The contents of this post are subject to change.

Why Don’t Bees Go to Heaven?

So why don’t bees go to Heaven?
Trees go to Heaven?
Amoeba, krill, and fleas go to Heaven?
It’s not surprisin’ that they’re not arisin’
‘Cos man created god.
-by Ronnie Williams

Why Don’t Bees Go to Heaven?

I remember hanging out with some friends at a skate park during my freshman year of high school (for the record, I was not a “skater”) when a religious dope approached us with a handful of pamphlets. He started handing them out to us since we were, after all, just a bunch of hoodlums who needed to be saved, and he was telling us about his god. I stopped him at one point and asked him if my dog would also go to Heaven.

HIM: Excuse me?”
ME: My dog. Will she go to Heaven too?
HIM: No.
ME: Why not?
HIM: Because animals don’t have souls like people.
ME: Then fuck your god.

My freshman year was a time when I was still questioning whether or not I actually believed any gods existed, so I was very fragile. To be told that the Christian god would accept me into Heaven (provided I believed in it) but not my dog Cocoa was terrifying and heartbreaking. Obviously they didn’t believe in a god who was in any way benevolent or cared about our happiness. I couldn’t imagine a god existing who so hated us that he would damn us to an eternity without our closest companions.

Without dogs, bees, trees, krill, whales, worms, and orangutans, and all the things that make life so beautiful and worthwhile, Heaven must be awfully boring. Count me out.

My son has an imaginary friend; I do not.

I have a lot of thoughts about religion, and mostly they’re all about how I want it not to exist, or at the very least to get out of my life.  By way of quick introduction, hello, my name is Erin; I was raised Catholic and began to seriously doubt the existence of god when I was twelve and read The Bible for the first time.  Time passed, though, and “doubt” doesn’t nearly cover it for me now.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’re agnostic, that they can’t say that they really don’t believe because they don’t know enough to really know.  That people who claim to be atheists are every bit as arrogant as people who think they know for sure that god is real.  I full-on disagree with this, and here’s why:  my four year-old son has a whole bunch of imaginary friends.  His favorite and best friend is named Gnash and lives on our roof.  My son talks to him, tells me what he’s doing, and informs me occasionally that Gnash is riding in our car or sitting at the dinner table with us.

My son has a relationship with him, speaks to him, and feels like he knows him.  Would it be rude to imply that it’s all in his mind, that Gnash is just the manifestation of a brain evolved enough to feel fear and loneliness, and creative enough to spawn ideas that will offer it comfort, company and answers?

I don’t have to think about it.  I don’t have to know more, or offer a speck of room for conscientious doubt.  Gnash is not real.  There is nobody living on our roof, just as there is nobody living in the sky conducting the cosmos.  I know this.  I resent the idea that I have to act as if people who have spent their entire lives wrapped up in their imaginary friends and allowing their thoughts to be warped, weakened and directed by flawed, human-written texts and sketchy interpretations of the same are reasonable.  I resent that I’m supposed to act as if the suggestion that the world was put here in a week by a big, bearded sky-architect isn’t completely insane.

Once I had a friend – she was Baptist – tell me she wished I could feel what she feels, how good it is to know that god is there, looking out for her.  That made me want to give her a hug, really, because it’s so horribly sad that a grown woman has to imagine herself a protector in order to feel safe.  And she couldn’t have been more wrong – I do not need god in my life to offer me comfort.  All god offered me back when I used to grapple with the idea was fear and confusion.  In fact, the day I realized there really is no god, and finally let go of trying to believe in something that never felt right to me, was one of the best, most liberating days I can remember.

I was driving in my car, and it hit me:  this is all there is.  There’s no list of rules, there’s nobody watching or keeping score, there’s nothing but myself and my own accountability.  My higher mind and my capacity for kindness, my ability to procreate and the responsibilities inherent – just me, human, and nothing else.  Just animals, evolved.  Not special, not eternal, not bound for punishment or praise or anything but our own conscience and perspective.  And then it made sense – all of it.  Some people are good and some are bad, some are stupid or kind or weak or aggressive or withdrawn, sometimes things blow up, sometimes storms come, sometimes babies die, sometimes dolphins gets caught in tuna nets – whatever.  A bunch of animals evolved on this rock, unheeded by the rest of the universe, and after a while we mastered the knack of thinking.  Of course our first thought was that we were special in some way.  Better.  Destined for something.  So we made up stories that told us just why and how we were so special.

The day I realized we weren’t, everything made sense.  Suddenly the world wasn’t so terrifying, because I knew that – as bad as it was – at least I wasn’t going to spend an eternity burning for thinking dirty thoughts, and I was never going to have to hit my knees and apologize to an invisible man for eating beef on a Friday.  At least there wasn’t some scary, distant figure judging me for everything I did even as he made me do it.

The world is crazy, but at least it’s not that crazy.

So that’s where I am now; non-believing to the point that I hate saying that I don’t believe, or labeling myself an atheist.  These are relatives terms, and they relate to religion:  they label me as Other.  I can’t stand having my point of view defined in relation to all that madness.  There isn’t a thing for me not to believe in.  As surely as I don’t have a friendly monster living on my roof, there isn’t a god to reject, there isn’t a heaven and hell, there is nothing for me to not have in my life.  They are the delusions of others, and they can damn well leave me out of it.  I’m just me, walking around on the earth, surrounded by atmospheric gases, being a sane and rational human being.  It’s so much nicer this way.

An Atheist Manifesto

An Atheist Manifesto
by Sam Harris
07 December, 2005

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of 6 billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe at this very moment that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?

No.

The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

It is worth noting that no one ever needs to identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. Consequently, we do not have words for people who deny the validity of these pseudo-disciplines. Likewise, atheism is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (87% of the population) who claim to never doubt the existence of God should be obliged to present evidence for his existence and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day. Only the atheist appreciates just how uncanny our situation is: Most of us believe in a God that is every bit as specious as the gods of Mount Olympus; no person, whatever his or her qualifications, can seek public office in the United States without pretending to be certain that such a God exists; and much of what passes for public policy in our country conforms to religious taboos and superstitions appropriate to a medieval theocracy. Our circumstance is abject, indefensible and terrifying. It would be hilarious if the stakes were not so high.

We live in a world where all things, good and bad, are finally destroyed by change. Parents lose their children and children their parents. Husbands and wives are separated in an instant, never to meet again. Friends part company in haste, without knowing that it will be for the last time. This life, when surveyed with a broad glance, presents little more than a vast spectacle of loss. Most people in this world, however, imagine that there is a cure for this. If we live rightly-not necessarily ethically, but within the framework of certain ancient beliefs and stereotyped behaviors-we will get everything we want after we die. When our bodies finally fail us, we just shed our corporeal ballast and travel to a land where we are reunited with everyone we loved while alive. Of course, overly rational people and other rabble will be kept out of this happy place, and those who suspended their disbelief while alive will be free to enjoy themselves for all eternity.

We live in a world of unimaginable surprises–from the fusion energy that lights the sun to the genetic and evolutionary consequences of this lights dancing for eons upon the Earth–and yet Paradise conforms to our most superficial concerns with all the fidelity of a Caribbean cruise. This is wondrously strange. If one didn’t know better, one would think that man, in his fear of losing all that he loves, had created heaven, along with its gatekeeper God, in his own image.

Consider the destruction that Hurricane Katrina leveled on New Orleans. More than a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions, and nearly a million were displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate God. But what was God doing while a hurricane laid waste to their city? Surely he heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: These poor people died talking to an imaginary friend.

Of course, there had been ample warning that a storm of biblical proportions would strike New Orleans, and the human response to the ensuing disaster was tragically inept. But it was inept only by the light of science. Advance warning of Katrina’s path was wrested from mute Nature by meteorological calculations and satellite imagery. God told no one of his plans. Had the residents of New Orleans been content to rely on the beneficence of the Lord, they wouldn’t have known that a killer hurricane was bearing down upon them until they felt the first gusts of wind on their faces. Nevertheless, a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that 80% of Katrina’s survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God.

As Hurricane Katrina was devouring New Orleans, nearly a thousand Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death on a bridge in Iraq. There can be no doubt that these pilgrims believed mightily in the God of the Koran: Their lives were organized around the indisputable fact of his existence; their women walked veiled before him; their men regularly murdered one another over rival interpretations of his word. It would be remarkable if a single survivor of this tragedy lost his faith. More likely, the survivors imagine that they were spared through God’s grace.

Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is–and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.

One wonders just how vast and gratuitous a catastrophe would have to be to shake the world’s faith. The Holocaust did not do it. Neither did the genocide in Rwanda, even with machete-wielding priests among the perpetrators. Five hundred million people died of smallpox in the 20th Century, many of them infants. God’s ways are, indeed, inscrutable. It seems that any fact, no matter how infelicitous, can be rendered compatible with religious faith. In matters of faith, we have kicked ourselves loose of the Earth.

Of course, people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. But how else can we understand the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent? There is no other way, and it is time for sane human beings to own up to this. This is the age-old problem of theodicy, of course, and we should consider it solved. If God exists, either he can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities or he does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. Pious readers will now execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by merely human standards of morality. But, of course, human standards of morality are precisely what the faithful use to establish God’s goodness in the first place. And any God who could concern himself with something as trivial as gay marriage, or the name by which he is addressed in prayer, is not as inscrutable as all that. If he exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.

There is another possibility, of course, and it is both the most reasonable and least odious: The biblical God is a fiction. As Richard Dawkins has observed, we are all atheists with respect to Zeus and Thor. Only the atheist has realized that the biblical god is no different. Consequently, only the atheist is compassionate enough to take the profundity of the world’s suffering at face value. It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion–to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions and religious diversions of scarce resources–is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity. It is a necessity, however, that places the atheist at the margins of society. The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors.

The Nature of Belief
According to several recent polls, 22% of Americans are certain that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in the next 50 years. Another 22% believe that he will probably do so. This is likely the same 44% who go to church once a week or more, who believe that God literally promised the land of Israel to the Jews and who want to stop teaching our children about the biological fact of evolution. As President Bush is well aware, believers of this sort constitute the most cohesive and motivated segment of the American electorate. Consequently, their views and prejudices now influence almost every decision of national importance. Political liberals seem to have drawn the wrong lesson from these developments and are now thumbing Scripture, wondering how best to ingratiate themselves to the legions of men and women in our country who vote largely on the basis of religious dogma. More than 50% of Americans have a “negative” or “highly negative” view of people who do not believe in God; 70% think it important for presidential candidates to be “strongly religious.” Unreason is now ascendant in the United States–in our schools, in our courts and in each branch of the federal government. Only 28% of Americans believe in evolution; 68% believe in Satan. Ignorance in this degree, concentrated in both the head and belly of a lumbering superpower, is now a problem for the entire world.

Although it is easy enough for smart people to criticize religious fundamentalism, something called “religious moderation” still enjoys immense prestige in our society, even in the ivory tower. This is ironic, as fundamentalists tend to make a more principled use of their brains than “moderates” do. While fundamentalists justify their religious beliefs with extraordinarily poor evidence and arguments, they at least they make an attempt at rational justification. Moderates, on the other hand, generally do nothing more than cite the good consequences of religious belief. Rather than say that they believe in God because certain biblical prophecies have come true, moderates will say that they believe in God because this belief “gives their lives meaning.” When a tsunami killed a few hundred thousand people on the day after Christmas, fundamentalists readily interpreted this cataclysm as evidence of God’s wrath. As it turns out, God was sending humanity another oblique message about the evils of abortion, idolatry and homosexuality. While morally obscene, this interpretation of events is actually reasonable, given certain (ludicrous) assumptions. Moderates, on the other hand, refuse to draw any conclusions whatsoever about God from his works. God remains a perfect mystery, a mere source of consolation that is compatible with the most desolating evil. In the face of disasters like the Asian tsunami, liberal piety is apt to produce the most unctuous and stupefying nonsense imaginable. And yet, men and women of goodwill naturally prefer such vacuities to the odious moralizing and prophesizing of true believers. Between catastrophes, it is surely a virtue of liberal theology that it emphasizes mercy over wrath. It is worth noting, however, that it is human mercy on display–not God’s–when the bloated bodies of the dead are pulled from the sea. On days when thousands of children are simultaneously torn from their mothers’ arms and casually drowned, liberal theology must stand revealed for what it is–the sheerest of mortal pretenses. Even the theology of wrath has more intellectual merit. If God exists, his will is not inscrutable. The only thing inscrutable in these terrible events is that so many neurologically healthy men and women can believe the unbelievable and think this the height of moral wisdom.

It is perfectly absurd for religious moderates to suggest that a rational human being can believe in God simply because this belief makes him happy, relieves his fear of death or gives his life meaning. The absurdity becomes obvious the moment we swap the notion of God for some other consoling proposition: Imagine, for instance, that a man wants to believe that there is a diamond buried somewhere in his yard that is the size of a refrigerator. No doubt it would feel uncommonly good to believe this. Just imagine what would happen if he then followed the example of religious moderates and maintained this belief along pragmatic lines: When asked why he thinks that there is a diamond in his yard that is thousands of times larger than any yet discovered, he says things like, “This belief gives my life meaning,” or “My family and I enjoy digging for it on Sundays,” or “I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where there wasn’t a diamond buried in my backyard that is the size of a refrigerator.” Clearly these responses are inadequate. But they are worse than that. They are the responses of a madman or an idiot.

Here we can see why Pascal’s wager, Kierkegaard’s leap of faith and other epistemological Ponzi schemes won’t do. To believe that God exists is to believe that one stands in some relation to his existence such that his existence is itself the reason for one’s belief. There must be some causal connection, or an appearance thereof, between the fact in question and a person’s acceptance of it. In this way, we can see that religious beliefs, to be beliefs about the way the world is, must be as evidentiary in spirit as any other. For all their sins against reason, religious fundamentalists understand this; moderates–almost by definition–do not.

The incompatibility of reason and faith has been a self-evident feature of human cognition and public discourse for centuries. Either a person has good reasons for what he strongly believes or he does not. People of all creeds naturally recognize the primacy of reasons and resort to reasoning and evidence wherever they possibly can. When rational inquiry supports the creed it is always championed; when it poses a threat, it is derided; sometimes in the same sentence. Only when the evidence for a religious doctrine is thin or nonexistent, or there is compelling evidence against it, do its adherents invoke “faith.” Otherwise, they simply cite the reasons for their beliefs (e.g. “the New Testament confirms Old Testament prophecy,” “I saw the face of Jesus in a window,” “We prayed, and our daughter’s cancer went into remission”). Such reasons are generally inadequate, but they are better than no reasons at all. Faith is nothing more than the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail. In a world that has been shattered by mutually incompatible religious beliefs, in a nation that is growing increasingly beholden to Iron Age conceptions of God, the end of history and the immortality of the soul, this lazy partitioning of our discourse into matters of reason and matters of faith is now unconscionable.

Faith and the Good Society
People of faith regularly claim that atheism is responsible for some of the most appalling crimes of the 20th century. Although it is true that the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were irreligious to varying degrees, they were not especially rational. In fact, their public pronouncements were little more than litanies of delusion–delusions about race, economics, national identity, the march of history or the moral dangers of intellectualism. In many respects, religion was directly culpable even here. Consider the Holocaust: The anti-Semitism that built the Nazi crematoria brick by brick was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity. For centuries, religious Germans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful. While the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominately secular way, the religious demonization of the Jews of Europe continued. (The Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914.)

Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields are not examples of what happens when people become too critical of unjustified beliefs; to the contrary, these horrors testify to the dangers of not thinking critically enough about specific secular ideologies. Needless to say, a rational argument against religious faith is not an argument for the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma. The problem that the atheist exposes is none other than the problem of dogma itself–of which every religion has more than its fair share. There is no society in recorded history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

While most Americans believe that getting rid of religion is an impossible goal, much of the developed world has already accomplished it. Any account of a “god gene” that causes the majority of Americans to helplessly organize their lives around ancient works of religious fiction must explain why so many inhabitants of other First World societies apparently lack such a gene. The level of atheism throughout the rest of the developed world refutes any argument that religion is somehow a moral necessity. Countries like Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on Earth. According to the United Nations’ Human Development Report (2005) they are also the healthiest, as indicated by measures of life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate and infant mortality. Conversely, the 50 nations now ranked lowest in terms of human development are unwaveringly religious. Other analyses paint the same picture: The United States is unique among wealthy democracies in its level of religious literalism and opposition to evolutionary theory; it is also uniquely beleaguered by high rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, STD infection and infant mortality. The same comparison holds true within the United States itself: Southern and Midwestern states, characterized by the highest levels of religious superstition and hostility to evolutionary theory, are especially plagued by the above indicators of societal dysfunction, while the comparatively secular states of the Northeast conform to European norms. Of course, correlational data of this sort do not resolve questions of causality–belief in God may lead to societal dysfunction; societal dysfunction may foster a belief in God; each factor may enable the other; or both may spring from some deeper source of mischief. Leaving aside the issue of cause and effect, these facts prove that atheism is perfectly compatible with the basic aspirations of a civil society; they also prove, conclusively, that religious faith does nothing to ensure a society’s health.

Countries with high levels of atheism also are the most charitable in terms of giving foreign aid to the developing world. The dubious link between Christian literalism and Christian values is also belied by other indices of charity. Consider the ratio in salaries between top-tier CEOs and their average employee: in Britain it is 24 to 1; France 15 to 1; Sweden 13 to 1; in the United States, where 83% of the population believes that Jesus literally rose from the dead, it is 475 to 1. Many a camel, it would seem, expects to squeeze easily through the eye of a needle.

Religion as a Source of Violence
One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the 21st century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns–about ethics, spiritual experience and the inevitability of human suffering–in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith. Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities–Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc.–and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict. Indeed, religion is as much a living spring of violence today as it was at any time in the past. The recent conflicts in Palestine (Jews versus Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians versus Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians versus Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants versus Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims versus Hindus), Sudan (Muslims versus Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims versus Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea (Muslims versus Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists versus Tamil Hindus), Indonesia (Muslims versus Timorese Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite versus Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians versus Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis versus Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few cases in point. In these places religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in the last 10 years.

In a world riven by ignorance, only the atheist refuses to deny the obvious: Religious faith promotes human violence to an astonishing degree. Religion inspires violence in at least two senses: (1) People often kill other human beings because they believe that the creator of the universe wants them to do it (the inevitable psychopathic corollary being that the act will ensure them an eternity of happiness after death). Examples of this sort of behavior are practically innumerable, jihadist suicide bombing being the most prominent. (2) Larger numbers of people are inclined toward religious conflict simply because their religion constitutes the core of their moral identities. One of the enduring pathologies of human culture is the tendency to raise children to fear and demonize other human beings on the basis of religion. Many religious conflicts that seem driven by terrestrial concerns, therefore, are religious in origin. (Just ask the Irish.)

These facts notwithstanding, religious moderates tend to imagine that human conflict is always reducible to a lack of education, to poverty or to political grievances. This is one of the many delusions of liberal piety. To dispel it, we need only reflect on the fact that the Sept. 11 hijackers were college educated and middle class and had no discernable history of political oppression. They did, however, spend an inordinate amount of time at their local mosque talking about the depravity of infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise. How many more architects and mechanical engineers must hit the wall at 400 miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that jihadist violence is not a matter of education, poverty or politics? The truth, astonishingly enough, is this: A person can be so well educated that he can build a nuclear bomb while still believing that he will get 72 virgins in Paradise. Such is the ease with which the human mind can be partitioned by faith, and such is the degree to which our intellectual discourse still patiently accommodates religious delusion. Only the atheist has observed what should now be obvious to every thinking human being: If we want to uproot the causes of religious violence we must uproot the false certainties of religion.

Why is religion such a potent source of human violence?

  • Our religions are intrinsically incompatible with one another. Either Jesus rose from the dead and will be returning to Earth like a superhero or not; either the Koran is the infallible word of God or it isn’t. Every religion makes explicit claims about the way the world is, and the sheer profusion of these incompatible claims creates an enduring basis for conflict.
  • There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments. Religion is the one endeavor in which us-them thinking achieves a transcendent significance. If a person really believes that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly. It may even be reasonable to kill them. If a person thinks there is something that another person can say to his children that could put their souls in jeopardy for all eternity, then the heretic next door is actually far more dangerous than the child molester. The stakes of our religious differences are immeasurably higher than those born of mere tribalism, racism or politics.
  • Religious faith is a conversation-stopper. Religion is only area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give evidence in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet these beliefs often determine what they live for, what they will die for, and–all too often–what they will kill for. This is a problem, because when the stakes are high, human beings have a simple choice between conversation and violence. Only a fundamental willingness to be reasonable–to have our beliefs about the world revised by new evidence and new arguments–can guarantee that we will keep talking to one another. Certainty without evidence is necessarily divisive and dehumanizing. While there is no guarantee that rational people will always agree, the irrational are certain to be divided by their dogmas.

It seems profoundly unlikely that we will heal the divisions in our world simply by multiplying the opportunities for interfaith dialogue. The endgame for civilization cannot be mutual tolerance of patent irrationality. While all parties to liberal religious discourse have agreed to tread lightly over those points where their worldviews would otherwise collide, these very points remain perpetual sources of conflict for their coreligionists. Political correctness, therefore, does not offer an enduring basis for human cooperation. If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith.

When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t–indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable–is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own.

I, Art.

I, Artist.

Why God?

One answer, easily offered by a secular view of early humanities transition to an agricultural way of life, is that it was an invention of clever hustlers seeking community power. Convince the populace that you have a connection to an ineffable power, and therefore become powerful.

This argument applies to even pre-agricultural societies which were based on a hunter-gatherer/wandering  system. This would be the archetypal tribal ‘shaman’, or holy person, a system yet extant in many indigenous peoples worldwide. The one who could read the signs, read the stars, talk to the dead and predict animal migration behavior. A position, which in post-ancient society would become the ‘priest’ or ‘priestess’.

Another answer would be a passing along of primitive beliefs derived by the common individual of the species which attributed the then unexplainable to a divine source.

Or it could have been based in a primal fear of the cessation of existence. This may even be present in the tentative evidence of burial practices amongst Neanderthals which purportedly speak to a belief in an afterlife, evidenced by the inclusion of everyday tools and items amongst a burial.

However, I would posit another theory based solely on speculation.

Take for instance, a very young child, only recently capable of speech, who is in an environment composed only of atheists. The first time that child saw lightning, would it ask if it was god doing that?

I think not. A child not introduced to the concept of a god, has no preconceived notion of it. Therefore, why would an ancient hominid suddenly turn to this conclusion for the unexplainable? If the god concept is not present in modern infants, then how/why did it occur in primitive hominids?

What did they perceive that acted as a catalyst for this leap in thought? How did they concoct such a seemingly ridiculous concept?  Why did thunder or fire or an unusually rare sandstorm fuel the concept of the supernatural?

In this, I am speaking of peoples existing before the archeological record. Before writing as we know it, before complex art, before the idea of architecture as an enduring structure.

Why did our most primitive ancestors come up with a ‘god’?

Why would a species of hominid, at the time, who relied utterly and totally on the ability to rationally assess the world around them for their very survival turn to something they couldn’t measure or define?

Take lightning as a simple example.

I as a modern Human have a basic scientific understanding of what causes it, and what it is. However, after a bolt of nearby lightning, I can smell the ozone in the air. I can associate the presence of lighting with darkly colored clouds in the sky, the sound of thunder and rain.

How is it that an ancient primitive human, so finely attuned to the environment out of the sheer need for survival, would not perceive this as well? Why come up with a divine figure to explain lightning when they could easily connect it’s occurrence to dark clouds, thunder and rain, all of which would have been easily predicted through millennia of observation?

Why didn’t they attribute lightning to dark clouds in the sky and instead take up a belief that an invisible hominid in the sky was causing it?

I can easily understand the answer that they didn’t know where the dark clouds came from, why they produced lightning or why fired caused pain upon contact.

But why, WHY, did the choose a SPIRITUAL answer? Why not say ‘we just don’t know’?

Could it be that clever charlatan answer? A potential leader perceives the confusion of the community and decides to explain it by offering the spiritual as an answer? ‘Only Powers-That-Be that he/she could access?

But that again beggars the question. Where did THAT first charlatan get the idea of the divine?  It would be easy to say that this person stood up and said to the community, “ I KNOW THE ANSWER! BUT YOU MUST MAKE ME LEADER OR I WON’T TELL!’

And of course, his/her answer was ‘there is an invisible power at work that guides and creates these things you do not understand’. And the cycle comes back upon itself.

Here is my answer as to how we as a hominid species came up with god.

We are Creative. And God is the Ultimate Creation. What work of Art down the long line of history can compare? God is Humanities very first work of Art. And obviously, the critics are abound.